A petition to force a vote on a proposed incinerator near the Madison County line in Elbert County has been shot down. But the spokesman for a citizens’ group opposing the facility says the fight will continue.
Citizens for Public Awareness (CPA), a group opposing a planned waste-to-energy trash incinerator about 1.25 miles from the Madison County line in Elbert County, collected enough valid signatures to force a referendum. But the petition does not meet the letter of the law on calling for an actual vote by citizens, according to Elbert County probate judge Susan Sexton.
“The petition contains a sufficient number of valid signatures, and the Court would be required to certify the petition if it were authorized by the Constitution of the State of Georgia as a proper procedure which to amend local county ordinances,” wrote Sexton in her March 23 ruling.
Sexton wrote that after a review of the state constitution, as well as case law, she determined that the petition “is not legally valid and is not a proper procedure by which to amend local county ordinances.”
CPA spokesman Kevin Lewis said the group is reviewing its options. Lewis said case law does support Sexton’s ruling, but added that there was also an example of a petition being used as CPA intended.
“We were disappointed,” said Lewis of Sexton’s ruling. “I’ve known Judge Sexton since high school and know she considered this in a very thoughtful and considerate way. It’s just a matter of interpretation.”
Lewis said an appeal of the ruling is a possibility, but not a certainty. He said the group may instead challenge the legality of the Elbert County commissioners’ vote for the incinerator project. He said CPA believes the commissioners committed procedural violations in its approval of the facility and that the host agreement between the county and GreenFirst LLC, the permitting agency for the project, can be challenged.
Elbert County is already facing a legal challenge from Sweet City Landfill, LLC, a company that also proposed a solid waste facility in Elbert County, but was passed over in favor of the incinerator project.
“There may be some synergy between what we’re doing and what Sweet City is doing,” said Lewis.
Elbert County commissioners unanimously approved the incinerator project Feb. 8, with county attorney Bill Daughtry noting that all procedural requirements had been followed prior to the vote.
Proponents of the incinerator say it will bring needed jobs and revenue to Elbert County. They add that the facility will be tightly regulated and will not pose environmental or health problems. Opponents strongly disagree, saying there’s no way to burn an estimated billion pounds of trash per year without harmful effects on the surrounding population and environment.
Some Madison County citizens have been very involved in the fight against the facility, including Ed and Kat Gilmore, Carlton, who helped spearhead the petition drive. Ed Gilmore said he was disappointed with the ruling that nullified that petition. He said Georgia law does not require enough legal training for probate judges to interpret the state constitution.
“It is unfortunate that Georgia law requires this sort of petition be submitted to a probate judge,” said Gilmore. “Probate judges typically have very little legal training … I hope the Elbert County group Citizens for Public Awareness appeals the probate judge’s ruling.”